Assistant Professor of Political Science, Dr. Melody Crowder-Meyer gave a talk on February 6 entitled “Where are all the women? An examination of where women run for political office, when they win, and why women’s representation remains so low in the U.S.” Crowder-Meyer is extremely passionate about the subject, and her manuscript Party Strength and Political Equality: How Local Parties Shape American Women’s Political Representation is in the process of being published.
Crowder-Meyer began her talk with the statistics of women’s representation on the national level. She stated that while the US is currently at a time of “historically unprecedented women’s representation,” women only make up 20% of the US senate, 18% of the House of Representatives and 10% of Governors. This representation is also extremely unequal by party, with democrats making up 75-80% of female representatives.
The bulk of Crowder-Meyer’s presentation consisted of local representation, as she believes that will “trickle up” to higher representation. Men and women win at equal rates, according to Crowder-Meyer, so she focused her research on why women are choosing not to run. She split her presentation into three parts: the supply of female candidates, the stereotypical party norms, and the electoral context.
Candidates traditionally need to be middle aged, well educated, strong partisans and employed in a respected profession. Crowder-Meyer investigated whether the lack of female representation was due to a “supply issue,” or a lack of women with these qualifications. Over time, however, the percentage of women who fit this description has grown, although at different rates based on parties. Now, democratic women fitting this description make up around 50% of potential candidates, while Republican women make up only 25%. For both parties however, the number of elected women does not match the supply.
Party norms also contribute to the gender inequality in local representation because women are less likely to see themselves as qualified to run. Women are also less likely than men to use personal funds in an election, and therefore, require a party to back their campaign. Parties have historically been problematic for female candidates, but are in the process of becoming better for women considering running for office. Crowder-Meyer stated, “Parties don’t like to change and they don’t change very quickly.” However, Crowder-Meyer emphasized that electoral-context matters in this type of situation, as party leaders who view women as unelectable are more likely to run women in at-large elections, where multiple candidates run for multiple seats, than single member district elections.
After she finished her talk, Crowder-Meyer answered questions from students, professors, and community members. Cookies and sparkling water were served.